Last weekend marked one year to the day that Khabib Nurmagomedov officially retired from mixed martial arts as an undefeated champion, following a submission win over Justin Gaethje at UFC 254.
After the fight and subsequent confirmation of his decision to retire from the sport, Khabib did a round of media interviews across the world where he was asked who he believed the best fighters in the division were now that he was gone.
One name consistently popped up, his teammate and long-time friend Islam Makhachev.
Makhachev has since improved his record to 20-1, with two wins this year against Drew Dober at UFC 259 and then a main event win over Thiago Moises at UFC Vegas 31 in July.
This weekend at UFC 267 he returns to Abu Dhabi and Fight Island to take on Dan Hooker in a three-round lightweight fight on the main card.
It was supposed to be Rafael Dos Anjos in a grudge match, but the Brazilian withdrew following knee surgery and it was ‘Hangman’ who stepped in on short-notice after he snapped a two-fight losing streak with a decision win over Nasrat Haqparast at UFC 266.
Stylistically, the fight still favours Makhachev. He is a great striker on the feet with good power to match up with Hooker’s kickboxing, but he has the ability to take a fight to the ground and keep it there in a dominant way – much like Khabib did.
Hooker will be looking for a huge upset on the night, but if Makhachev can get the victory that many are predicting and expecting on the night then he will further help to prove that Khabib was right about him the whole time.
With the lightweight title fight at UFC 269 in December just around the corner between Charles Oliveira and Dustin Poirier, a stand-out win for Makhachev could easily see him installed as the next contender for the belt.
He is currently ranked at number 5 with Justin Gaethje and Michael Chandler ahead of him scheduled to fight each other, with both men coming off title shot defeats.
Beneil Dariush is the other man ahead of Makhachev, but proving Khabib right at UFC 267 means he is likely just two wins away at most from becoming the lightweight champion of the world.